Stories take place in all types of regions and eras, with characters of all types of races, ages and social classes. But when you boil each story down, they are really about the same thing: human nature. They all seek to capture an element of the struggle it is to be human and the conflicts (big or small) one faces in the course of a lifetime, year, day, hour or even minute. Therefore, for readers (humans) to sympathize with a piece of fiction and really be moved by it, they must see something of themselves in the characters that inhabit it.
Humans are complex. We become victims of our emotions and become sad or happy at the drop of a dime. We have vices and things we do that we are too afraid to tell others for fear we wouldn’t be loved. We have thoughts we would rather take with us to the grave than share. We have fragile egos prey to the words and actions of others. We have problems showing love and affection; we have problems receiving it. We lie. We cheat. We steal. We betray.
As a writer, it would be impossible to capture all these facets into one character. In fact, trying to do so is where a lot of writers go wrong –– especially young ones. We create characters that are too generalized because we want them stand for a sect of people: a typical NYC teen, a typical housewife, a typical dad. However, creating a “typical” anything only leads to a flat unoriginal 2-D character that will make your narrative stagnant. Original characters fuel great stories –– individuals with unique intricacies, problems, beliefs and behaviors, and those are the characters we must strive to create.
There are four basic components that express a character over the course of a novel or short story: speech, appearance, thoughts and actions. Often, the best characters are those that have these components set against each other. For example, a man who dresses nicely, stays in shape and acts seemingly decisive yet has a distressed mind which over contemplates interactions or actions –– is an interesting character. As is the girl who professes she doesn’t need men and is independent and then falls in love and becomes clingy. They are characters that exhibit contradictions, enough to be considered human.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a post concerning each of the components mentioned above. Along the way I’d like to hear your feedback on how you use these components (or ones I am missing) to create your characters.